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  • 27 Feb 2018 1:40 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Blog Post by: Melissa Meyer

    The unofficial guide to the winter hike soups/food: February Edition

    Blendon Woods: Chicken Noodle & Biscuits

    Blendon Woods has served Chicken Noodle & biscuits for years, at least since the mid-90’s, and possibly since the beginning of the winter hike series.  Brett and Kurt, both Metro Parks employees, have been cooking this soup together for 12 years, altering the secret recipe slightly to make the soup better and better each year.  When asked about the recipe, Kurt made it clear that the recipe was a secret, and they planned to keep it that way.  He did disclose, however, that there are a few key proponents to the soup making process.  More than anything, timing is the key when making this mysterious soup.  The “noodle drop,” as he called it, has to be specifically timed so that they noodles don’t turn to mush.  These guys take their soup making very seriously!

    This soup was fantastic! Blendon Woods takes a childhood staple, Chicken Noodle Soup, and steps it up a notch for this wonderful winter hike soup.  Big chunks of chicken, tiny pieces of carrot and vegetables, and great big noodles made up the base of this soup, with a steamy hot broth poured over that absorbs into the biscuit that is put in the bottom of the soup bowl, turning it into a kind of dumpling that is a tasty treat once the noodles are gone.  The secret spices added to the soup are instrumental in making this one of the top 5 winter hike soups!

    Pro Tip: Put the biscuit in your soup.  Don’t eat it on the side.  You won’t regret it!

    What it boils down to: Chunky chicken noodle with a salty broth and biscuits.  I overheard many people say that this was their favorite soup!

    Scioto Grove: Franks & Beans

    Scioto Grove, the newest park in the district, has only a couple Winter Hikes under its belt.  They aren’t tied to a traditional soup that is served at the hikes, and so they get to make their own traditions.  To me, this process is really exciting, and I was eager to learn more about how a new park chooses what to serve.

    Geoff Hamilton, the manager at Scioto Grove, decided on Franks & Beans.  Geoff was trying to follow the “camping” theme set by the REI urban backpacking trail that runs through Scioto Grove Metro Park.  He also wanted to make something that fit the age group that uses that trail most, families with young kids, and in his words “what kid doesn’t like hot dogs?” He got the idea from when  he was just a kid himself, when he went to “some kind of mountain man trapper camp” in the winter, and they cooked ham and beans in a cast iron pot hung over a tripod.  To Geoff, this is the winter camping soup.

    The soup itself was delicious! Thick, spicy baked beans with hotdogs chopped up throughout.  It was spicy, but not too spicy, with bottles of hot sauce available to turn up the heat if necessary.  In addition to the beans, the folks from REI were out there making apple and blueberry dump cake in Dutch ovens, bringing “campfire cuisine” to a whole different level!

    What it boils down to: Thick BBQ baked beans and hot dogs.  Spicy and filling.  The sweet dutch oven dump cake really evens out the spicy beans!

    Highbanks: Potato Soup Bar

    It was a chilly morning at Highbanks, with temperatures just above freezing and the snow turning to slush and ice.  A snowball fight broke out at the trailhead, a snowman greeted hikers, and a cold drizzle soaked visitors and made the hills along the trail a little more treacherous than expected.  Fortunately, when they finished up their hike, they had a tasty bowl of soup waiting for them.

    An indoor location for soup is a HUGE plus for me, especially after sitting in the cold and damp for three hours.  And Highbanks did not disappoint! 

    They served potato soup, a creamy (but not thick) soup with bite sized chunks of potato, carrot, and other vegetables.  They offered the choice of serving it on top of a biscuit, and then topping it with cheese, bacon and oyster crackers… or all three. Highbanks does not have a set traditional soup and so they switch up what they make every once in a while.  However, this potato soup has been served for a few years now, and it seems as though everyone is happy with it! Maybe this is the soup for Highbanks!

    Pro Tip: Definitely pour this soup over a biscuit.  Definitely top it with cheese and bacon.  It’s a good soup, and these toppings make it even better!

    Glacier Ridge: Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

    Glacier Ridge started serving chicken sandwiches over 6 years ago.  Previously, they had served soup and chili before, but eventually settled on chicken sandwiches since they are easy to eat and stay warm even during high winds.

    The sandwiches were intended as a “grab and go” type of late lunch, premade by volunteers on the spot and wrapped in tin foil so you can quickly grab and sandwich and be on your way.  The sandwiches are simple, just creamy shredded chicken on a bun, with pickles on the side and bags of chips offered to supplement the meal.  This year, they also offered vegetarian Boca burgers, which were a hit and went very quickly!

    Pro Tip: Put some pickles on your sandwich.  They add a necessary crunch and a little tanginess to an otherwise soft sandwich.  This step is especially important if you’re a “texture” person.  Don’t like pickles? Add some potato chips.

    What it boils down to:  An easy “Grab & Go” type of lunch.  Many people have said they LOVE these sandwiches, so we included the recipe.  Definitely not a soup though. 

    Recipe Here: Glacier Ridge Chicken Sandwiches.docx

    Three Creeks: Breakfast Sandwiches

    This was a first for Three Creeks.  Previously, they had served walking tacos, and switched this year to breakfast sandwiches.  This was a great post-hike breakfast!  Three Creeks offered sausage, biscuits, and cheese with mustard and ketchup that you can add to the sandwich.  You could also eat the sausage and biscuits separately, and they offered butter and jam to put on the biscuits.  Three Creeks also thought of the vegetarians, and offered a limited number of soy sausage patties.

    These were another great “Grab & Go” type of food.  It wasn’t difficult to stand and eat the sandwich, which is good, since tables can fill up fast!  The only thing is that the biscuits were a little dry… nothing a cup of hot chocolate couldn’t fix though!

    What it boils down to: Also not a soup.  This sandwich is still savory and filling, which is important when you just hiked a few miles!

    Slate Run: Ramen Noodles

    Slate Run has been serving cups of Ramen Noodles for years.  Some have called the Ramen “disappointing” but what they don’t realize is how genius it actually is.  Slate Run offers more Ramen flavors than I have ever heard of, including chili lime, cheddar cheese, and chicken tortilla, so you aren’t stuck with the traditional chicken or beef options.  The amount of work that needs to go into making the Ramen is minimal… just heat up some water, fill your cup to the line, and let it soak for 3 minutes.  The portions are substantial, and there is no awkward rationing of soup to make sure you don’t run out.  Everyone gets the same noodle to broth ratio, and I feel like no one can go home hungry.  The huge cups are helpful for transporting soup while walking, so you don’t need to necessarily stick around to consume your lunch.  Plus, I don’t know a single kid who doesn’t enjoy the slurping up Ramen Noodles

    Some complained that there was too much sodium in Ramen, some complained that it “wasn’t homemade,” but my only complaint is that there were only spoons to eat with… which don’t quite tame the unruly noodles... forks would have been appreciated.  I applaud Slate Run for having such a great,  simple, delicious option that lets the winter hikers choose their own flavor.  It definitely made me nostalgic for my college days.

    In addition to the Ramen, they also have fruit, cookies, and hot chocolate!  So if you aren’t a Ramen fan, or if you’re watching your sodium intake, you aren’t left out!

    Pro Tip: Get there early, because they DO run out of some of the more unique flavors!

    What it boils down to: It’s genius, it’s delicious, it’s Ramen Noodles.

    Battelle Darby Creek: Darby Dogs

    And finally, the end of the winter hike series is upon us. This year it was very soggy, but there were still over 700 people that came out to hike, receive their walking sticks, and finish the series off with a famous Darby Dog. 

    The Darby Dogs are giant hot dogs, served on a bun (or not) and served with a variety of toppings.  For the more traditional folks, ketchup, mustard and relish are available.  For the more adventurous, there is chili sauce, shredded cheese, onions, and jalapenos.  In the end, it’s all delicious, no matter what you put on it.  They also offer cookies brought by the Battelle Darby Creek volunteers, and bags of chips to round out your meal.  They also had veggie dogs, to the relief of vegetarians worried about missing out on a famous Darby Dog. 

    Pro Tip: Put ALL the toppings on your hotdog.  It’s sloppy, but delicious.

    What it boils down to: Not a soup, but a delicious grilled hot dog.  Kid friendly, vegetarian friendly, and with friendly people all around… its the perfect way to end the winter hike series.  


    I hope everyone enjoyed the winter hike series as much as I did.  Meeting everyone was wonderful and it was great to see so many people who love and support the Metro Parks.  I hope to see you all at events throughout the year, and if you do... please say hi! 

    Thank you all for being Friends of the Metro Parks, and if you aren't please consider joining today!  Till then, keep hiking... I will see you all next year!


  • 31 Jan 2018 2:09 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Blog Post by: Melissa Meyer

    An Unofficial Guide to the Winter Hike Soups

    For forty-five years, the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks have hosted the Winter Hike Series.  Starting the first weekend in January until the end of February, thirteen parks open up their trails to folks starting their new year outside. Whether people are hiking for exercise, exploration, or just using the wonderful trails as a respite from the city, hundreds flock to the Metro Parks for the winter hike series, with the promise of a tasty cup of soup after.

    Each park features its own soup, and if you are an avid hiker working to fill out your hiking card, you really are missing out if you don’t try them all. This is my second year working through the Winter Hike Series, and I felt it was my duty to dive into each bowl of soup, unearth their history, and review them, although I am completely unqualified to do so. 

    This blog post will cover all of the January winter hikes, with the next installment after the last winter hike.

    Blacklick Woods: Minestrone

    Blacklick Woods is the oldest Metro Park in our district, the first of the hikes in the Winter Hike Series and for the last two years, the coldest hike of the series.  The promise of a warm bowl of soup to thaw the frost from your eyelashes and to heat your chilly fingers is enough to help get you through the first winter hike.  One of the wonderful things about the Blacklick hike is that soup and hot chocolate are served inside the beech-maple lodge.  Their soup of choice? Minestrone.

    The origins of this soup are unknown, but I was told that Blacklick has featured the same soup since the parks started serving food at the winter hikes.  The soup is cooked the morning of the hike in huge turkey fryers.   What is served inside is poured into crock pots, but what is served outside is still bubbling over the fryers flame.  The broth is savory, with vegetables, beans and noodles floating around the bottom.  What this soup lacks in substance, it makes up for with its herb-heavy broth.  The best part is that it’s easy to slurp out of a bowl.  Spoons are not necessarily required, which is good when you’re having trouble with fine motor skills due to frozen fingers.

    Pro Tip: Not enjoying how brothy the soup is? Throw some oyster crackers in there to thicken it up.

    What it boils down to: Easy to eat.  Veggies, noodles, and broth.  It was very warm, and I was very cold.

    Sharon Woods: White Chicken Chili

    This year, the Sharon Woods hike was met with a severe snow storm.  It was difficult to get out to the park, but 488 people still came out to hike the trails and get a cup of Sharon Woods’ signature soup, White Chicken Chili.  

    This recipe comes from Alli Shaw, a naturalist at Sharon Woods.  She gave the recipe to her mother, who ended up winning a chili cook off with it and suggested serving it at the winter hike in place of cinnamon rolls.  Alli’s mother, Judy, who was a caterer, took the original recipe and changed it so that it could feed 600 people.  The year before Judy passed away, Alli’s parents made the soup to serve at the winter hikes.  Alli’s father continued to make the soup until 2016, and passed the ladle to Metro Parks staff member Jecy, and volunteer Ted.  This year, we can thank Ted and his wife, as well as the all the other volunteers who chopped and sautéed onions, marinated and grilled chicken and baked goodies to pair with the soup!

    You guys, this is good soup! It was brothy and easy to slurp up if your hands were cold.  It was salty and a little spicy, really flavorful, and had a lot of substance to it.  There were big thick chunks of chicken in this chili that had been grilled by volunteers before putting it into the soup.  I’m personally a big fan of spicy food, and the kick from this soup was perfect.  They also provide some hot sauce to take the heat level up a notch for folks who live for spicy food, which makes this white chicken chili customizable, to a point.

    Pro Tip: Sharon woods volunteers make corn muffins to go with the White Chicken Chili.  Sometimes these muffins are a little cold and freeze.  Stick a muffin IN your chili, and stab it a few times with your spoon till it softens up.  

    What it boils down to: Filling, flavorful, customizable.  A little spicy!

    Want the Recipe? Click here: Judy's White Chicken Chili.docx

    Prairie Oaks: Chicken & Noodles

    Prairie Oaks is the third hike in the series, and this year it was on a beautiful, bright, sunny day.  According to Tom Cochran, the manager at Prairie Oaks, they make more and more soup every year to meet the demand of winter hikers.  Their signature soup is Chicken & Noodles.  

    This soup is truly a fan favorite.  Everyone seems to rave about the famous chicken & noodles from Prairie Oaks.  When the parks started to serve food at the winter hikes, there was a question over what would be the best soup to serve.  That’s when a park technician named Dave Skinner mentioned a family recipe for chicken & noodles.  After a taste test, they decided that this was the soup for them!  The preparations for Chicken & Noodles start days in advance.  Roasters full of the ingredients are stored in the fridge overnight.  Before the hike, they fire up the roasters and let the chicken & noodles cook all day in order to reach the right consistency and to get everything to absorb.  The result is thick, creamy, chunky chicken and thick, soft noodles.  The perfect end to a chilly winter hike.  The Chicken & Noodles are hearty and flavorful.

    To be honest, I didn’t get to try the Chicken & Noodles the day of the hike.  The folks at Prairie Oaks actually said that they would make me a batch if I wanted to come out and try it, which is possibly one of the nicest things anyone has ever offered me.  Truly, food is the way to my heart.  However, I declined the offer in exchange for the recipe so I could make it myself.  I’m pretty sure that it came out correctly, because it was DELICIOUS and I now completely understand the hype.

    What it boils down to: Thick, chickeny, and noodley.  A fan favorite!

    Want the recipe? Click Here: Skinner's Famous Chicken and Noodles.docx

    Scioto Audubon: Chicken & Wild Rice, Vegetable with Beef Broth

    The winter hike at Scioto Audubon, for the last two years, has been greeted with beautiful weather. When I was in school, we studied the old impound lot and its transition from brownfield to beautiful, usable green space, so this park has a special place in my heart.  While standing inside the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, I watched the cars file in, one after another, to hike in a park overlooking the skyline of our city.  In the meantime, the smell of soup filled the air.  Scioto Audubon actually features two soups, Chicken & Wild Rice and Vegetable with Beef Broth.

    According to assistant manager Chris Delgrosso, the Chicken and Wild Rice soup is “one of the finest soups you will find east of the Mississippi.”  He might be right!   This soup was really good.  The soup was creamy, with chunks of chicken, carrots, onions and celery.  It was well spiced, and thick, thanks to the wild rice that gave wonderful texture to every bite.  This soup will stick to your ribs after a hike through the park, warm you up, and really keep you full.  

    The other soup featured at Scioto Audubon is Vegetable with Beef Broth.  It was salty, and warm.  Something great to help thaw after the hike, but really does beg for a little something more.  Luckily, Scioto Audubon provides oyster crackers to put in this soup, and it really makes this soup great!

    Pro Tip: They also had s’mores outside, which was wonderful since it was such a nice day!

    What it boils down to: The Chicken & Wild Rice is fantastic soup.  It’s hearty, creamy, and filling.  The Vegetable & Beef Broth soup is fine, as long as you stick some crackers in it to fill out the soup a little more.  

    Inniswood: Chili

    According to Metro Parks lore, Inniswood was the very first Metro Park that started the tradition of serving food during a winter hike.  The original recipe was provided by the husband of Janet Whithers, who was a chef.  After the winter hikes started getting more popular and there were more hikers coming to Inniswood, volunteers started to make the chili using his original recipe.  Though I personally don’t know when this tradition started, it has been going strong for more than 20 years, and possibly right after Inniswood opened up for the first winter hike.  

    Inniswood features beef, venison, and veggie chili.  I was only able to taste the beef chili, but it was wonderful. This chili was warm and hearty with lots of peppers, beans, celery, and tomatoes interspersed with the ground beef.  It was flavorful, but not spicy, which I can understand… not everyone has the same spice tolerance.  

    The veggie chili, though I didn’t get to taste it, looked fantastic.  There were lots of beans and veggies, and looked just as hearty as the beef or venison chili did.  

    This soup is another favorite of winter hikers, and we can thank the Inniswood volunteers for all of the help preparing and serving soup, as well as making baked goods for all of the winter hikers.

    What it boils down to: Great chili, vegetarian options, and delicious cookies.  Another fan favorite!

    Want the recipe? Click Here: Almost Famous Inniswood Chili.doc

    Clear Creek: Ham & Bean

    Before the Winter Hike Series  got really big, Clear Creek used to serve venison chili at their winter hikes.  For a while, they kept trying to make chili but the crowd quickly became too large and the soup too expensive to make.  So they switched to a delicious and cost effective Ham & Bean soup.

    In years past, Marty Shull’s mother would make the Ham & Bean soup, but this year it was up to the park staff and volunteers to feed 800 people that came out to Clear Creek for the winter hike.  

    I love this soup.  It is just perfect simplicity.  Ham base and great northern beans make up the soup, which fills the barn next to the park office with a smoky, salty smell and makes it a cozy little spot to relax and recharge after taking on the hills at Clear Creek.  After getting a big spoonful of beans and broth, you can add chopped onions which give a nice satisfying crunch to the otherwise soft beans, adding texture and some of that oniony sweetness.  They also offer corn muffins, which you can eat separate, or drown in the ham broth to thicken up the soup.  

    Pro Tip: Drown the corn muffins in the broth and eat it with the soup after you’ve fished out the beans.

    What it boils down to: One of my personal favorite soups.  Full of salt and carbs, it’s a great way to replenish yourself after the difficult trails at Clear Creek.  Definitely worth the drive!

    Stay tuned for the next installment of Soup Review, which will be published after the last winter hike.  

    Keep hiking, stay warm, and eat some soup!


  • 28 Nov 2017 3:52 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Blog Entry: Aryeh Alex

    Like most families, every year my family gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving.We come together around a table, enjoy a great meal, share stories of funny things that happened over the past year, and are thankful for all of the amazing things in our lives. It is a great experience, albeit one that leaves me overstuffed with mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. 

    The next morning I awake wanting to get outside and hike off all of those Thanksgiving day calories. I always turn to one of our amazing Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. Putting on my boots and bundling up, I head out to one of 19 parks that are all within a 30 minute drive from my house. Once on the trail, I am surrounded by nature—the few remaining fall leaves clinging to the trees, the cool autumn breeze blowing across my face, and the deer that can be seen observing from a distance. 

    But the best part of getting out in one of our parks is seeing all of the people that want to share this experience with me. From the trail runner zipping past, to the father teaching his daughter about the different types of trees, to the photographer capturing the glory of one of the creeks meandering through the park, there are so many Ohioans that share the love for the parks that we all have. That's what I am most thankful for, our Metro Parks. 

    That is why I will be donating on #GivingTuesday to the Friends of Metro Parks. We need these beautiful parks for generations to come and the Friends is the organization working to ensure that becomes a reality. Will you join me in supporting our parks by giving to the Friends today?

    A "general donation" helps bring new people into our parks, creates programs for our children, and ensures that these parks are here for the future.

    By donating to the "Tad Jeffrey Memorial Fund" you will be helping to create innovative programs and projects across all of our Metro Parks.  As a 501c(3) organization, we cannot operate without your help.  

     If you love our Metro Parks and are as thankful for their existence as I am, please join me in #GivingTuesday. 

    Give to Friends of Metro Parks Here: #Give

  • 14 Jun 2017 11:09 AM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)


    I'd like to take a moment to introduce myself, my name is Aryeh Alex and I'm the new President of the Friends of Metro Parks. Our Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks are something very special to me, in fact they helped save my life. 

    Several years ago, my doctor told me that my excessive weight and lack of physical activity was going to result in my life being significantly shortened. This eye-opening statement, to someone who thought they were invisible, was a wake up call—and I was determined to take action and get in shape. But it wasn't as easy I had hoped. Walking on a paved trail in Sharon Woods Metro Park was a real struggle, yet I persisted.

    My strength and energy increased with every step I took and I noticed something on my walks: nature. I had never really taken the time to see all of the beautiful tall trees, wild flowers, and animals that surround us and I wanted to see and learn more.

    I started exploring all of our Metro Parks in Central Ohio. I hiked around Big Darby Creek, scrambled up the hills of Clear Creek, and was chased by turkeys in Blendon Woods. I was feeling amazing and getting healthy. My love for these parks and the natural world that they showed me was cemented for life. They had quiet literally saved my life.

    Now, an avid hiker and volunteer naturalist with our Metro Parks, I wanted to give something back to the parks that have given so much to me. I joined the Friends of Metro Parks with the goal to ensure that our parks are around for generations to come and will always be a place for all Ohioans to explore.

    Our organization as grown from a dozen members to almost 1,000 individuals in just over a year. And now we have an opportunity to go to the next level and engage the 10 million annual visitors that visit our parks every year. We are re-launching the Friends of Metro Parks with the goal of having 30,000 members by the end of 2019 and to be the strongest advocates for the parks that we all love.

    To that end, we will be working to make a significant number of changes to better engage you, your friends, and Metro Parks lovers across the region. Starting off with the adoption of a new strategic action plan* at our first public board meeting, we will be kicking things off this June in a big way.

    I really look forward to meeting all of you and growing our ranks of Metro Parks friends over the coming year. I hope to see some of you at our board meeting in June or out on the trails in one of our amazing parks.

    Keep on hiking!


    Aryeh Alex, President

    Friends of Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks

    *Friends Strategic action plan: FriendsofMetroParksPlanpdf.pdf

  • 18 May 2017 10:17 AM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    State of Metro Parks Volunteer of the Year Profile

    Name: Greg Maney

    Park: Scioto Audubon

    How long have you volunteered? 
    I have been a volunteer for one year this summer! However, I’ve been climbing at the Scioto Audubon Park for about 3 and a half years.

    What are your general duties as a volunteer? What is your favorite thing to do at the Metro Parks?
    For me, these two questions go hand in hand. As one member of an extremely close but relatively small community; I help to keep the Scioto Audubon climbing wall in tip top shape. The wall was originally built by RockWerx, and it is constructed of molded fiberglass over a steel frame. As far as I know, the Scioto Audubon climbing wall is one of the largest, if not the largest, free-access artificial climbing wall in the United States. The attraction of this wall and its easy access draws climbers from all over Ohio, as well as from around the country. This wall has natural features as well as artificial plastic climbing holds. Over time, holds can become loose or potentially come out of their mountings altogether. This poses a potential risk for climber’s safety as well as the integrity of the wall surface. As a Wall Volunteer, I am part of the team that helps to identify weak spots on the wall, as well as help to keep the public safe and aware of the risks and requirements of this sport. Climbing is not without risk, but the thrills that comes with it is genuine and intoxicating.

    The climbing community in Columbus cherishes our wall at Scioto Audubon and routinely go above and beyond to care for it and make sure that it is used appropriately. As a Wall Volunteer at Scioto Audubon I have the privilege of being one of the team who sets new climbing routes and maintains existing ones. As with any sport, one is constantly seeking new challenges and greater excitement. After a while, the routes that exist on the climbing wall become routine, and we climbers begin to crave new adventures. I thoroughly enjoy setting routes at the climbing wall; it is a way to push myself further and to improve my own skills, and I have also discovered an incredible outlet for creativity.

    There is a very organic beauty to be found in the movements and the rhythms that are associated with climbing. Strength and agility and stamina all come together to allow one to perform a feat that is beyond the norm, and takes them beyond regular every day existence. In my opinion; having a vision for a series of moves and holds in your head, and then being able to create and actualize that dream is the most amazing catharsis. I don't know if I feel more joy than when I see someone attempt a route of mine at the wall and say afterwards that it was so much fun or that it was hard and makes them want to climb better themselves! The best thing about setting routes and being a Wall Volunteer is seeing how people from all walks of life and of any age, come together and join in a unique camaraderie in this shared love of rock climbing.  

    What do you do when you aren’t volunteering at the Metro Parks?
    When I’m not climbing, I enjoy music and working with the youth group at my church. There are a couple climbers there also! My day job finds me at Grant Medical Center, where I am a surgical Nurse. I specialize in orthopedics and neurosurgery, I frequently scrub and assist surgeons while they operate. That’s essentially how I've become famous around the climbing wall. I’m never there without my trusty green scrub pants, they've become a bit of a trademark!

    Please share one of your favorite experiences as a volunteer:
    One of my favorite experiences was the Inaugural “Rock On!” Community Climbing Festival. Between the food trucks, vendors, and community organizations present, I have never seen more life and vitality around the climbing wall. There were so many avid climbers in attendance, along with their families, it was difficult to even move around! The climbing community also warmly welcomed new climbers and folks who just happened to pass by and decided to give it a try. There was such an amazing sense of friendship and joy at the Climbing Festival, it is hard for me to see why anyone wouldn't want to be around it! The Ranger staff at Scioto Audubon have always been very welcoming and accommodating to the climbing community, and they truly outdid themselves with putting on the Climbing Festival. I can't wait for the Festival next year!

    What do the Metro Parks mean to you?

    The Metro Parks are an amazing resource for our city and our community, the Scioto Audubon climbing wall doubly so. As climbers, our greatest privilege is also our greatest challenge: Access. The entire climbing community in Columbus recognizes what a gem and a treasure that Scioto Audubon is, and they are quick to lavish praise on it. That the city and county would be willing to take such a risk and open up an attraction such as this is not lost on us, and at every opportunity we try to do our best to preserve and sustain it. The Scioto Audubon Metro Park is an oasis for me personally. It is only ten minutes from my work at Grant, and I can go down there at any time and enjoy a reprieve from stress and hustle and bustle. It offers one of the most unique and breathtaking views of the city as well. The Scioto Audubon Metro Park is a nexus; not only for myself and others in the climbing community, but also for many residents of Columbus and Franklin County overall. On any given day, there will be folks down at the wall or on the obstacle course from all walks of life and from all over the greater central Ohio area. There is nowhere else that such a diverse community could possibly come together like we do here.

    Why should other people become volunteers?
    To become part of something bigger than yourself, and to open yourself up to the opportunity to expand your horizons. Our time in this life is so precious, a fact that is sometimes painfully clear to me in my occupation. But the time that is spent among friends, or making new ones, and doing the things that make you happiest are perhaps the best way to spend it. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone, and to share your love of the world and the things in it with others. We are all in this together!

  • 06 Apr 2017 1:43 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Robin Hood and Little John walkin' through the forest

    Laughin' back and forth at what the other'ne has to say

    Reminiscin', This-'n'-thattin' havin' such a good time

    Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day”
    (Disney's Robin Hood)

    There’s a swing in my step, as I whistle this familiar tune. With a little help from 
    Walt Disney, I can imagine Robin Hood and his Merry Men hurrying through the forest, making a quick escape, with a glint in their eyes and mischief in their hearts.

    All around me there’s a lightness of mood, a spirit of adventure, and an airy feeling of freedom. I sense a childlike giddiness amongst the adults in the crowd, whose ages span many decades. The kids can hardly contain their energy and excitement; their playfulness and uninhibited bravery are apparent. In these 100 acres of forest, all are encouraged to explore!

    Newly acquired by the Columbus Metro Parks, after more than 50 years of negotiation, the forest before us is standing tall, with all its hidden treasures. The hope is to expand this “park” soon, by another 50 acres, and the overarching goal is connecting and growing the entire Metro Park system.

    This newest Metro Park will be ancillary to Blendon Woods, tended to by Blendon's caretakers, and opened to the public for free exploration. But today I’m here for a preview hike, led by the Director of the Metro Parks, and open only to Friends of Metro Parks, who are just as instrumental in the care of the parks around town.

    We are waiting for our guided hike to begin, and it sinks in that this is what Ohio looked like long ago, in the days before urban (and suburban) development! We've traveled through time. The experience of stepping into the unknown is kind of the point of this park. This hike will be the first of many, in organized groups, on solo adventures, and with the aim of inspiring a deep love of nature.

    As we enter the forest, spreading out to find the best route, we are quite loud, with about 100 hikers in attendance. The trees are bare, with their fallen leaves crunching underfoot. Small signs of spring, in the form of the first bold spring flowers, pop up all around us. Tiny purple and white flowers, with five delicate petals surrounding a dainty yellow center, are identified as Spring Beauty. They stand in contrast to the mud colored blanket of leaves we are marching our way through.

    Our pace is slow, casual, and we are slowed further by our affection for all the change that comes with spring. We stop to admire it, to snap photos, and to breathe the forest in. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to capture the image, but there was a fair amount of tree hugging going on in this group.

    Despite the size of our group – the hike was offered to all current Friends of Metro Parks, and around 100 of them pleased organizers by showing up – we will hike together. In this space, on this land, the hike leaders and sweeps can’t tell a hiker who needs to cut out early to “follow the trail back”. This was explained at the start of the hike – if you find a trail, a deer made it.

    In an unusual twist, this unique patch of land comes with no plans for development. There won’t be bathrooms or shelter houses, playgrounds or nature centers. The Metro Parks doesn’t intend to create clearly defined, mapped-out trails. Perhaps this freedom and uncertainty is what has the group so charged up, or maybe it’s just the spring air.

    Just the day before there had been a wet chill in the air, even though we’d all thought we were past the cold temperatures of winter.  I lace up my hiking boots, wondering how many layers I needed to wear on a hike during this volatile, quickly changing, season.

    The hike was advertised as a Difficulty Level of 5, on a scale that tops out at 5! I realize that I'm in for a very difficult hike! It had been advertised on Facebook as such: “Be prepared to climb up and slide down steep hills and ravines,” and “This incredible property features mature forests, ravines, creeks and hills. . . There are no trails, and we will often be crossing very rugged terrain.” (Event Facebook Page)

    But the sun is shining, as the Director speaks of a child’s love of the forest, wanting to explore, and run, and climb and jump. In this undisturbed forest, all of this is possible! First and foremost, that’s because there’s NO understory, no hostile takeover of the native forest by invasive species, like the honeysuckle found all over Columbus.

    And so, we go on an adventure, not worried about getting the slippery brown mud on our hiking boots . . . or on our knees, as we climb up the steep banks. . . or on our bottoms, and we unexpectedly find ourselves sliding down the other side.

    “Did you take a tumble?” a fellow hiker asks.

    “Yes, but it’s all good – I thought I could do what the 12-year-olds were doing!”

    “Me too!” she says, “The minute you give up . . . you’re done!”

    A spirited 10-year-old girl, in muddy jeans and a black Friends of Metro Parks t-shirt, is being goaded on by her playmates, encouraged to jump from one fallen tree to the next, and the next. She responds, with admirable assertiveness, “I don’t have to do it if I don’t want to!” Well, isn’t that the truth?!

    A bit further along, a father notices his 8-year-old son inching closer, and closer, to the slippery, rock-strewn edge of the stream. “Josiah, make good choices,” he calls out. And he does. . . or at least as good as the choices made by many of the excited adults on the hike, who are walking across fallen logs, leaping across the creek, and suddenly feeling their feet slip out from underneath them, as leaves give way in the wet mud.

    Early in the trek I’d heard a few hikers whispering about how the hike may have been falsely advertised, as being a “Level 5”. The same hikers were singing a different tune an hour and a half later, as the group scoped out a route back the way they came. At the top of a particularly steep hill, hikers are seen checking their Fitbits and heart monitors, to measure 9and compare) their elevated heart rates. But every one of us made it to the top of the last steep climb, and to the end of the hike, with some generous assistance along the way!


    An experience like this, surrounded by likeminded people, is all the reason you need to become a 'Friend of Metro Parks'.

    “Friends of Metro Parks is a nonprofit, membership-based organization with a passion for supporting our Metro Parks through interactive activities, advocacy and fundraising.

    We LOVE our Metro Parks… and we work hard to make sure these beautiful, natural spaces are LOVED and enjoyed for generations to come!”

    (Friends website)

    There is a large house on the property, something of a rustic mansion, fallen into disrepair; plans for the house are to be determined. We are promised that it will not be turned into a large, upscale lodge, with limited access – this land is to be explored and enjoyed by all.

    We pause, as a group, beside a large Oak tree, marked with a bright orange dot, spray-painted onto its trunk. The tree is marked with this splash of paint, along with any other trees that are 24 inches or larger, to designate it as one that will become timber. That was its fate, until Columbus Metro Parks acquired the land, saving these beautiful, old trees from being felled. This was a big save for Central Ohio’s natural lands!

    Along with all the excitement of a group hike, there is time for personal reflection. The parks are important; the parks need support. In the end, the parks don’t exist without their Friends!

    If you care about the parks like this one, vote YES for the Metro Parks levy! There is a real threat to these parks, from development, and from a situation in which admission is charged, to visit spaces that are now open to the public, free of charge.

    Cast your vote!

    A teen behind me notices a tree falling onto old wires overhead, along the edge of the property. She suggests that the tree is fighting back, against development, progress, and suburban invasion. She remarks that it’s as if the tree is saying “No, don’t build here!”


    There are few places in Central Ohio left like this, remaining untouched. This makes the trees, the habitat, and the wildlife a truly unique combination. “This is a unicorn!” we are told, at the end of our hike. “The mature forest is a Unicorn!”

    I’m not trying to eavesdrop – okay, maybe I am – but along the way, surrounded by the beauty of nature, and wondering what we'll find just over the next rise in the landscape, my ears perk up when I hear:

    “It’s like we’re zombie refugees, moving along to the next refugee camp, trekking through the forest, because all of the zombies are in the city!”

    Join me on my next adventure,

    ~ Kat

    Related Links:

    Friends of Metro Parks (home page): http://metroparksfriends.wildapricot.org/

    Friends of Metro Parks: http://www.metroparks.net/about-us/friends-metro-parks/

    Columbus Metro Parkshttp://www.metroparks.net/

    Robin Hood & Little John: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSIhWr25yzc

    Disney’s Robin Hood (Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcGU8OUXCDE

    Spring Beauty (flower)https://www.google.com/search?q=spring+beauty+flower&tbm=isch&imgil=v9erb5FYuHI8kM%253A%253BNuNFYQjr4v2YlM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.ediblewildfood.com%25252Fspring-beauty.aspx&source=iu&pf=m&fir=v9erb5FYuHI8kM%253A%252CNuNFYQjr4v2YlM%252C_&usg=__EeRyN1bHoGtjW9fAXtAa7Tshn3g%3D&biw=1096&bih=672&ved=0ahUKEwj64Ou3lofTAhWCORQKHU80Cv0QyjcIPg&ei=tKrhWPq2B4LzUM_oqOgP#imgrc=v9erb5FYuHI8kM:&spf=191

    Author Bio:
    Kathleen O'Dowd (Kat) is a Friends of Metro Parks blog contributor. Kathleen’s work as a Regional Trainer at a national photography company has allowed her to travel throughout the country, working with local Photographers and Field Trainers. She has turned this travel experience into the material for her blog “Accidental Wanderlust: the Art, Adventures, and Attitude of a Work Traveler”. Having caught the travel bug, she started traveling internationally, and has recently traveled to Cuba, Costa Rica, Thailand, Morocco and her family’s ancestral home of County Mayo, Ireland.

    With a Master’s Degree in Philosophy of Psychology and Neuroscience from The Ohio State University, and over 15 years of experience as a professional photographer, Kathleen merges her current passions for travel, the outdoors, art and the environment with her early training as a student of journalism at Marquette University. 

    Come along on her next adventure, or enjoy her many past adventures, here: https://kathleenodowd.wordpress.com/

  • 21 Mar 2017 12:45 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Name: Nancy Thomas

    Park: Inniswood Metro Gardens

    How long have you volunteered? 8 years 

    What are your general duties as a volunteer?

    I help monitor our Bluebird boxes and we keep the records that are turned over to the National Bluebird Society each year.  I participate in Garden Maintenance (weeding, planting, rakings, etc.)  I am a member of  the Design Interest Group (DIG) where we have the opportunity to design one or more of the 83 containers on the property according to the Park Theme of the year, decorate the grounds for Halloween and the house for Christmas. I participate in the yearly trek to Battelle Darby for a day of seed picking and to the Governor’s Residence to work in the Garden there.    I also am an Ambassador most Sundays, June through October.

    What is your favorite thing to do at the Metro Parks?

    My favorite thing to do at Inniswood is Ambassador on Sundays.  I choose one section of the property and walk around, talk to people, try to answer their questions, show them critters or other points of interest and enjoy all that nature has provided.  I get to meet people not only from other states but other countries and love to hear what their countries have that may be similar or different than what we have here.

    What do you do when you aren’t volunteering at the Metro Parks? 

    Each week I work three afternoons at the Westerville BMV.  I take 3 to 4 line dance classes and  2 cardio classes and 2 resistance weight classes.  I enjoy spending time with my three daughters and their children and am the proud great-grandmother of four little ones.  I also enjoy going out to dinner with friends.  I am an avid reader so rarely have the TV on.  I also am a Trustee for the Inniswood Garden Society and work there on the membership committee. 

    Please share one of your favorite experiences as a volunteer 

    One of the most rewarding experiences I have observed at Inniswood was being able to frequently see the rare leucistic hummingbird that graced our gardens a few years ago. I was told that there were recorded only one hundred other times of seeing this beautiful bird in the USA.   It brought visitors from all over the country and I met two Asian women who came from Germany to take photos.   

    What do the Metro Parks mean to you?

    A peaceful place I can retreat to get away from the stress of the world and enjoy the awesome beauty of nature. 

    Why should other people become volunteers?

    My experience in volunteering is that the staff is so happy to see you when you can come. You choose what days when you want to volunteer and what areas you want to work in.  No pressure at all.   You work with a staff person who shows you what needs to be done in each area. .  You can be new to gardening or a Master Gardner to become a volunteer. I knew so little when I first volunteered and found other volunteers and staff so helpful and encouraging.  I consider it a “free gardening education.” At Inniswood we also take an annual day trip on a chartered bus to other gardening points of interest in the State.  We also take some smaller car pooled trips from time to time. There are several “interest groups” you can join to increase your knowledge in various areas of gardening.  There is honestly something for everyone.   The success of the Metro Parks needs the volunteers to accomplish all that needs done at each park.  I encourage everyone to take the classes each March and learn more about the park and see where they might fit.  There is no place I would rather be! 

    Photos provided by Nancy Thomas, Jesse Bethea

  • 09 Mar 2017 3:08 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Name:  Pat Henneforth

    Park:  Highbanks

    How long have you volunteered?  Four years

    What are your general duties as a volunteer?  I’m generally known as “The Eagle Lady” as I spend a good percentage of my time monitoring our bald eagle activity and talking to visitors about the eagles and other features of the park. I also remind visitors of the park rules and pick up trash as needed.

    What is your favorite thing to do at the Metro Parks?
    It depends on the day and what is happening. I love talking to visitors, but also enjoy the solitude of rainy, snowy, or cold days. I like hiking the trails and taking photos.

    What do you do when you aren’t volunteering at the Metro Parks?
    I work part-time. My hobbies include photography, Zumba, jigsaw puzzles, and my grandchildren. (Not necessarily in that order)

    Please share one of your favorite experiences as a volunteer:
    OK – this one is impossible to answer. In general, the best moments come from interaction with visitors. So many times they teach me as much as I teach them.

    What do the Metro Parks mean to you?
    When I moved to Columbus four years ago, I was looking for a way to connect to my new community. When I found out the Metro Parks accepted volunteers, I was very excited – what a great way to get involved! The Metro Parks allow me to meet lots of people and to be out in nature.

    Why should other people become volunteers?
    It’s a way to “give back” in a beautiful setting and it’s enjoyable.

    Photos: Jesse Bethea (Top) Pat Henneforth (Bottom)

  • 23 Feb 2017 6:52 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    Name:    Beth Jackson 

    Park: 1st Pickerington Ponds, few at Chestnut Ridge and now Three Creeks after they discontinued a naturalist for P ickerington Ponds and Chestnut Ridge

    How long have you been a volunteer? 10 years

    What are your general duties as a volunteer?
    As a naturalist volunteer our main duty is to assist with park programs.  This can be counting visitors, keeping the group together,  assisting with presentations  and answering questions from visitors.  The naturalist is not always available to answer questions from everyone when the group is spread out hiking etc.

    What is your favorite thing to do at the Metro Parks?  
    My favorite thing is birding followed by hiking and biking.  

    What do you do when you aren’t volunteering at the Metro Parks?
    I am currently retired from my full time job as sales coordinator.   I have been a volunteer guardian for COAAA since 2014.     I also play French Horn in the Heisey Wind Ensemble.    I have played  over 100 concerts with Heisey. 

    Please share one of your favorite experiences as a volunteer: 
    One of my favorite experiences was last fall.   We had a grape vine making program and one of the little girls who was there gave me a hug and thanked me for my help when they left.  It is especially rewarding to see children learn and have fun at the programs.

    What do the Metro Parks mean to you?   A great place for people to enjoy nature.  As more people live in the city the Metro Parks are a great place for them to get out and explore. 

    Why should other people become Metro Parks volunteers? It is a wonderful way to increase your knowledge about nature.   You can always learn something new even with programs that you have attended before.

    Photo Credits: (top) Jesse Bethea (Middle, Bottom) Beth Jackson

  • 20 Feb 2017 4:14 PM | Melissa Meyer (Administrator)

    By Kathleen O'Dowd

    As a hiker and a cyclist, who spends as much time in nature as she can, hugging trees and such, my jaw dropped, as I looked at the weekend forecast in Columbus, OH. I could hear a wind chime outside of my home office window, reminding me that it won’t be all that long until patio season. . . but Saturday’s forecast was out of the ordinary. The self-declared outdoor enthusiast, REI member, and aspiring gravel grinder in me had an itch to get outside.

    (If you don’t know what “gravel grinding” is, just know that it’s a couple of challenging, terrifying and inspiring hours on a mountain bike. Perhaps I’ll write about it when I have a little bit more experience under my belt.)

    It doesn’t take much to create a spontaneous Facebook event. You’ll need: (a) a unique idea for an event. . . something you think your closest Facebook friends might be interested in doing 

    (b) a Facebook account, with a list of folks who call you “Friend” and 

    (c) a few simple clicks of the mouse. Use the “Invite” feature liberally. From there, a random conversation turns into an amazing, memorable event that creates a special bond between participants.

    Friend: “It’s going to be a beautiful weekend, with temps in the 50s and 60s – and it’s February! I’m thinking about pulling together a bike ride for Saturday morning.”

    Me: “Well, a couple of us are doing the Metro Parks Winter Hike, at Three Creeks, so we can earn our hiking stick for completing all of the hikes. Come join us!”

    Friend: “Hmmmmm. . . I wonder if anyone would want to ride to the hike. . .”

    Me: “Let’s do it!”

    The next thing we know, a mutual friend, who is also a serious cyclist, is tossing his bike onto the back of his car, to drive in from 2 hours away to join the adventure. As many as 15 friends, and friends of friends, are on board for the day. They didn’t all click “going” on the event, but we caught wind of their interest, and continued to spread the word.

    When we arrive, some folks would be meeting new riders for the first time. Others are excitedly swapping stories, with seasoned riders they have logged many miles with. One might wave back to a rider who enthusiastically waves in his direction, in greeting, even if they can’t quite remember each other’s names. They immediately recognize each other’s bikes and gear, but can’t place the face. Once helmets are on. . . well, a light bulb goes off, and the names are recalled.

    We’d meet in an open parking lot, not far from downtown Columbus, and hop on the Alum Creek Greenway Trail, with the destination of Three Creeks Metro Park. It’s the 11th of 13 hikes in the Winter Hike Series. These friends have met up at many of the hikes, for both the encouragement of friendship and the appealing aroma of hot soup and coffee, which greets them at the end of the hike.

    Once at the park, that’s where we’d settle the discussion of whether to hike 1, 3, or 5 miles. Getting 15+ adventure seekers to agree on a plan can be a bit of a challenge. But spirits are high! On a day that is as beautiful as this, all are in good spirits, and it’s impossible to have a bad day.

    Alum Creek Greenway Trail is paved, and our riding pace was casual, bringing together riders of varying abilities. There was a good amount of spandex (padded bike pants and brightly colored jerseys), but there were also riders in yoga pants and ¾ sleeve hoodies.

    There was at least one rider in shorts!! Reminder: this is mid-February, but unseasonably warm. We pushed off, with our bikes and helmets, sporting multiple layers of clothing that could be shed throughout the day, as the temperatures rose to a high of 65°. (Yep. . . it’s February in Ohio, and we have no complaints!)

    About 9 miles later we were at the start of the hike, locking bikes to each other and to bike racks, based on which hike the riders planned to do, and how long it would take. A group photo is a must, along with selfies, trail photos and general silliness. It’s all done on cell phones, with images often posted to social media minutes after they were taken.

    We commissioned a passing hiker to take our group photo, with bikes lined up in front of us. Another photographer, with his digital SLR Nikon hanging on his neck, noticed the commotion, and started shooting too. I assumed he was a volunteer of the Metro Parks, capturing the event. There’s a lot going on at these events, and we typically discover at least a handful of such photographers.

    One of the most amazing things about these hikes, and being generally adventurous and open to new experiences, is the people you meet along the way. It turns out the roaming photographer was a man named Scott, a photography student taking pictures for a class at OSU. It was a portrait photography class, and he was trying to photo subjects that shared his interests.

    After working for several years in landscaping, while completing his associates degree, he decided to continue for his Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resources Management and Forestry. Earlier this year he’d photographed in Hocking Hills, and share some of his photos with me. We’d see him again, a bit further into the hike, and shout “Hi, Scott!”

    At the start of the trail, we were greeted by a bald eagle who likes to photobomb selfies – watch out for her the next time you are out hiking! She also happens to be the photographer responsible for the cover photo of the newly designed Parkscope magazine, informing visitors about all things going on at the Metro Parks.


    The hike itself went by in a blur of conversation, camaraderie, and support. One hiker shared stories of her recent trip to Cambodia, supplying bikes to kids who had no other transportation to school. Another began scheming about a possible “Casual Triathlon”, for those who only casually bike, hike and kayak, but would love to give it a try, at a fun and social pace. Conversations shift and evolve, as the person hiking next to you rotates.

    At the end of the hike there was chili, served by volunteers who are quite generous with their time! There was also a chance to meet other hikers, seated along long, shared tables. “Snickers” was the hiker who caught my eye, a chocolate-colored rescue dog, full of personality, and walking the trail with his owner. He’s in training to be a therapy dog, which is a multi-step process, and the hike was an exercise in listening to commands, while outdoors and surrounded by a friendly crowd.


    I could go on and on about the great people who participate in these hikes, the adventures had, and the outstanding volunteerism of those who support the parks. In the end, I can’t think of anything else I would have preferred to do on this beautiful spring day, or a group I would have been more pleased to share the experience with.

    Author Bio:
    Kathleen O'Dowd (Kat) is a Friends of Metro Parks blog contributor. Kathleen’s work as a Regional Trainer at a national photography company has allowed her to travel throughout the country, working with local Photographers and Field Trainers. She has turned this travel experience into the material for her blog “Accidental Wanderlust: the Art, Adventures, and Attitude of a Work Traveler”. Having caught the travel bug, she started traveling internationally, and has recently traveled to Cuba, Costa Rica, Thailand, Morocco and her family’s ancestral home of County Mayo, Ireland.

    With a Master’s Degree in Philosophy of Psychology and Neuroscience from The Ohio State University, and over 15 years of experience as a professional photographer, Kathleen merges her current passions for travel, the outdoors, art and the environment with her early training as a student of journalism at Marquette University. 

    Come along on her next adventure, or enjoy her many past adventures, here: https://kathleenodowd.wordpress.com/

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